One of the most amazing features of the Jewish calendar is how it is decorated with so many holidays – both those that are joyous, as well as days when we mourn past destruction and those when we long and pray for eternal redemption. There are hardly any months without a celebration or a commemoration of immense significance.
The Jewish calendar’s rhythmic cycle of holidays and commemorations – such as Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Day – is interrupted only by the month of Cheshvan, which has no holidays or commemorative days. Because of this, Cheshvan acquired the label “Bitter”; we call it Mar Cheshvan or Bitter Cheshvan.
It may seem like the Jewish calendar is excessive when it comes to holidays. But when we take a close look at the holidays themselves, we see that each one presents a unique insight into how God chooses to be revealed or concealed, throughout history and in the glorious wonder His creation.
Currently, we are in the month of Shvat. While no major historical events took place this month, we do celebrate the New Year of Trees. Tu B’Shvat, or the fifteenth of Shvat, is important in carrying out biblical commandments pertaining to trees and what year they were planted.
In Leviticus 19:23-25, the Bible forbids eating the fruits of a tree planted in Israel during its first three years. In the fourth year, the fruits must be eaten only in Jerusalem, and during the fifth year, the fruits are permissible to be eaten and/or sold.
Being that Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for Trees, if someone planted a tree a week before the holiday, that tree is considered one year old as soon as Tu B’Shvat occurs, since the tree’s age is calculated by how many Tu B’Shvats have passed since it was planted in the holy soil of the land of Israel.
The New Year for Trees is celebrated all over Israel. New trees are planted, baskets of the Seven Species which the Land of Israel was blessed with are given out, and many celebrate with special blessings and praise.
This year, I was invited to a Tu B’Shvat celebration at my daughter’s nursery school. I spent the morning with my three-year-old planting flowers, eating fruits, and hearing her teacher praise God and the glorious natural wonders He created for us to enjoy.
The kids were so happy to show off the colorful platters of dried fruit they made, and the parents sat around playing musical instruments and signing songs of praise to God. It was a bit cold, so we were all bundled up, but the warmth of everyone’s love and the appreciation for God’s bountiful blessings made us forget it was the middle of a long and cold winter.
I have come to appreciate every nuance of the Jewish calendar, and how each event – whether historical, Biblical, or natural – enables us to be in constant communication with God, and to appreciate His presence throughout history and through His creation.